When he awoke, it was mid-afternoon. Ethan was surprised that he didn’t have a hangover, but he felt fine. He heard Sally Ann downstairs, but lay in bed thinking about what lay ahead. He had struggled with Christmas, but was especially shoved into depression by the thoughts of the Midnight Eucharist. That had been kind of an icon of his relationship with Scotty and he didn’t think he would subject himself to it now that Scotty was no longer a part of his life. But as usual, life had a way of intruding. Miss Mattie had sent notes to the Arkadelphia kids saying she expected them for dinner Christmas Eve and to attend the Christmas Eucharist with her. That pretty much settled it. He would go.
Miss Mattie had seen Jamie at the mall and asked him to join her for tea. “I’ll not go chasing my tail,” she said, “what gives with Scotty?”
“Personally,” he told her, “I could strangle him for what he did to Ethan, but, I guess, he had us all fooled.” He then told her everything he knew, sugarcoating nothing. “He asked to come back to Arkadelphia, but Randy who thought he knew him well, told him there was no way. I thought he’d have complete agreement from everyone at Arkadelphia except Ethan, but Ethan said ‘no way’.”
“Well, we don’t know what part his father played in his downfall, but once drugs enter the picture, all bets are off. Let’s just hope and pray he gets free of that curse,” Miss Mattie said. Jamie had never thought about his father being a part of the sorry picture, but then it never occurred to him that a father would do that to a child.
Dinner at Miss Mattie’s set the mood for Christmas for Ethan. In addition to the Taylors, Andy was there as were Doug and Rich. Doug told Ethan Rich’s nephew was still exhausted from his trip. “Maybe we’ll find out what gives tomorrow.”
Fr. Mason was also at Miss Mattie’s and announced he would be leaving St. Matthew’s the first of the year. “Officially the announcement will be made Sunday, but among friends ... I’ve been called to be rector of St. Francis in a small town in western North Carolina. It’s smaller than St. Matthew’s, so I will be the only priest there.”
When Ethan asked why he was leaving, Fr. Mason told him assistants were hired by the rector and when the rector left, so did the assistant. “Fortunately, the Vestry and Bishop asked me to stay on after Fr. Everett left. I’ve met Fr. McKenzie, the new rector, and I am sure you will like him very much. In fact, tonight will be his first service at St. Matthew’s.”
Somehow or other, and contrary to his expectations, the Choral Concert and the Midnight Eucharist didn’t depress Ethan and, in fact, he left feeling very alive and filled with hope. Fr. McKenzie’s sermon had no small part in that.
Christmas morning everyone slept in. Ethan was up first and fixed breakfast. When it was ready he headed toward the stairs and saw Sally Ann coming down. “You’re just in time for breakfast,” Ethan said to his sister as he kissed her on the top of the head. “Sausage, eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy.”
“You must be hungry,” Sally Ann laughed.
“Surprisingly, I am. I know there’ll be rough spots, but Fr. McKenzie’s sermon got to me last night. Especially when he talked about taking what you are dished out and making something out of it. Mary and Joseph were given a stable and made it into a place where shepherds knelt in adoration and wise men worshiped. They made a stable—which was what life handed them instead of a place in an inn—into a place of hope. I’ve been allowing what life handed me to drive me to despair instead of making it into something good. I know I’ll slide back sometimes, but I don’t see only dark despair ahead, no, I see hope.”
“Great! Guess I need to think about that too. A part of that thinking has to be what I am going to do about Keith. I like the guy and we have fun, but I will not put up with anyone who doesn’t know the meaning of stop.”
“Sis, I think he might have learned.”
“Well, if he wants to talk honestly about it I will, but he better have learned his lesson and he better not come around me whining!” As she was speaking, a very pregnant Kathryn and Jamie came in and joined Ethan and Sally Ann for Christmas breakfast.
Ethan and Sally Ann cleaned up the kitchen and got busy preparing their contribution to the three-plantation Christmas dinner. As Sally Ann put the last pan of cheese straws in the oven, she asked, “Ethan, what do you think about the situation with Rich’s nephew?”
“Well, not much since I don’t know him or his situation. Why do you ask?”
“Because I suspect he might want to go to work here and the ‘sleep on the couch’ routine will get old quickly.”
“Are you suggesting we take him in?”
“No, just that we may be asked.”
“Well, I’ll have to know a lot more than I do and you and I, Jamie and Kathryn will have to come to an absolute agreement on any such thing.”
Mid-afternoon, Ethan walked over to Ash and Kathy’s. When he got inside, he said, “Hope I’m not interrupting too much.”
“Not at all. Come in. We are about to get ready to go to the dinner. Sorry the boys are asleep, but I don’t want to get them up.”
“Certainly not,” Ethan laughed. “Ash, Kathy, I came to bring the boys some Christmas. I’ve got stuffed animals and some clothes, but something for the future as well.” He handed then two folders from a bank. “I’ve established a trust fund for each of them. There’s a thousand dollars in it and so long as I am able, I will place a thousand in it each Christmas, more if I can. When they reach eighteen or graduate high school if they graduate before they are eighteen, it will be theirs to pursue any path they choose to advanced education. I didn’t want to limit it. If college is what they need, that’s one way, vocational school is another and study with a Joe equivalent would also be acceptable.”
“You really do see them as your sons, don’t you?” Kathy asked, seemingly somewhat surprised.
“Kathy, if we were married and living together I would not see Kayden any more a son than I do. He is my son, as unconventional as his family is.”
“Well, I’ll say one thing, he’s got a hell of a daddy.”
“I’ll say amen to that,” Ash added. “Would to God every kid had as good a daddy.
Ethan got tears in his eyes. How could he feel rejected when he had just been told what a great dad he was?
A few minutes later, the boys announced they were awake and Ethan changed and dressed Kayden while Ash did the same for Taylor and Kathy got food ready for the dinner. He then helped bundle up the boys and get them in their car seat carriers in Kathy’s car before he went back home where the Taylors got ready and headed for the Edwards’. When they walked inside, the house smelled like Christmas, the scent of the tree and evergreens mixed with the warm scent of spices.
When Claire Bell, Albert, LaLisa and Samuel arrived, Ethan was holding Kayden, rocking him gently in his arms. Jamie was doing the same with Taylor. Samuel started running toward one, stopped and started for the other and stopped again. Jamie stooped down and lifted Samuel with one arm and said, “Samuel! Good to see you. Santa come to see you?”
That opened the floodgates and Samuel started telling Jamie all about Christmas, beginning with meeting Santa at the mall. When he had pretty much wound down, he asked, “Shamie, did Santa Claus bring that to you?” pointing to Taylor.
“No, Samuel, Taylor was brought by Ethan and Ash.”
“Are you going to keep it?”
“Can I play with him?”
“Well, he’s too new to play now. You’ll have to wait awhile, but, yeah, one of these days you can play with him.”
The Kistlers came in and when Shawn and Samuel saw each other, they squealed, their voices awakening the two babies. Ethan saw Claire Bell and Mrs. Kistler were about to chastise them and intervened. “Please, say something to them later, but right now they don’t know what to do about these strange creatures who have invaded their world and taken over their heroes. I don’t want them thinking they have been replaced or rejected.” Mrs. Kistler and Claire Bell nodded. Later LaLisa said, “You’re a good man, Ethan Taylor.” He thanked her. “Claire Bell told us about Scotty. It was hard to believe until she said he had gotten into drugs. Those things can change a man. My brother got into crack and finally died from it. He was a sweet, loving young man until he got hooked on that shit and became a man possessed with where his next hit was coming from. He died when he tried to rob a convenience store. Not an excuse for Scotty, just the way it might have been. Claire Bell said Randy thought he was where he might have a time and place to reclaim his life. I hope so.”
“So do I,” Ethan responded.
“Where’s Doug, Rich and Rich’s nephew?’ Molly asked, sticking her head around the kitchen door.
“They are here. Just coming inside,” Jamie called from living room. The kitchen crew came out and Michael said, “Rich, I’ll take the box while you introduce everyone.” He took the box Rich was carrying and Doug followed him carrying another box.
Ethan looked up from watching Kayden sleep and saw a rugged young man. He obviously has lost weight as his clothes hung on him, but he was handsome. About six one or two, he had blond hair which had a slight wave like Ethan’s and Jamie’s, green eyes and was very tanned. He was hot.
“Everyone, my nephew Christopher Long. He, by the way, prefers to be called Christopher as his dad, my brother, is called Chris. Christopher, you can introduce yourself to this crowd so maybe you’ll remember a name or two.”
“Kathy, where’s the diaper bag?” Ethan asked. “I seem to be holding a stink bomb all of a sudden. Seems to happen every time I have a kid in hand.”
“It’s in the guest room, the one with cats on it.”
“Check on Taylor while you’re in there. He’s in the play pen,” Ash called as Ethan headed to the guest room.
Ethan got Kayden changed and put him in the play pen and checked on Taylor who was not crying, but being fussy. He was wet. Ethan had his wet diaper off when Taylor cut loose, pissing a high stream which caught Ethan in the face and wet his shirt good. He wiped his face on his shirt sleeve and got Taylor in a dry diaper and walked out of the guest room carrying both boys. “Ash, Kathy, can you take this bundle of joy? I need a dry shirt. My son just pissed in my face and wet my shirt.”
“Oh the joys of fatherhood,” Jamie laughed. “Come on, I’ll drive you home.” While Ethan cleaned up and got on a clean shirt, Jamie said, “Brother, I don’t think they get much straighter than I am, but that Christopher is one damn hot stud.”
“Agreed, brother mine, but I’m not in the market. I am very much not in the market.”
When they got back to the plantation house, Ash and Kathy had put Kayden and Taylor in the car seat-carriers and placed them in front of the Christmas tree where they seemed fascinated by the lights.
Rich, Doug and Christopher got busy setting the table in the formal dining room which Jamie and Kathryn had decorated beautifully with evergreens and holly, all from Philos.
At 6:30 everything was ready and everyone assembled in the living room for drinks and snacks. Davis appointed himself bartender and fixed cocktails for those wanting them. Ethan, Jamie and Christopher had just gotten glasses of red wine and some cheese and crackers when Dek and Andy came in. “Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas,” Dek said. “Sorry we’re late, but there was a pile-up outside Montezuma. We were stuck in traffic for half an hour.”
“Just glad you got here safely,” Davis said. “How’s you mom?”
“Mama’s doing fine, still ready to take on whatever comes down the pike.”
Davis handed Dek a Jack and water. “How about Andy?”
“See the others are having wine. He can as well if he wants it.”
“Andy,” Davis called. Andy went over and nodded and Davis handed him a glass.
Andy walked over to the others and Jamie said, “Glad you made it, partner.”
“Glad to be back, partner,” Andy replied as they bumped fists. “Hi, I’m Andy Hickey. Jamie and I are partners in Philos, another plantation.”
“I’m Christopher Long, Rich’s nephew.”
“I hope not, but I don’t know. It will depend on Rich and Doug. So are you a father also? Seems all the young guys are.”
“Not so far as I know,” Andy laughed. “Ethan tell you he was a dad?”
“Well, no, but I heard him say his son pissed on him.”
“It’s a bit complicated, but you’re right, I am a dad,” Ethan said. “Kayden and Taylor are my sons.”
“Twins also? Jamie said he and Kathryn are having twin boys.”
“Oh boy,” Ethan thought, “I should have known this day was coming.” He blushed and said, “No, they are not twins, but let’s let it go at that for the time being. So, Andy, see your big, important brother?”
“No, I didn’t. He pissed off Grandmama some time ago and she threw him out and told him not to come back until he could apologize. Seems Grandmama told him she was coming up to see him play and asked when he’d be on the field. Ray told her he didn’t need any Aunt Jemima in the stands cheering him. When Grandmama knew that he hadn’t been in a game and wasn’t likely to be, she laughed and said it looked like Mama had picked the wrong son to make her rich. So Chris ...”
“Andy, he prefers Christopher,” Jamie said.
“Sorry, I didn’t know. So Christopher, what are you planning to do?”
“Well, if Rich and Doug will let me stay around, I need to find a job. I am a sophomore in college, well, vocational school, studying culinary arts—that’s cooking—but now I am on my own and broke. I do have a college fund, but that can only be used for books, tuition, etc., not living expenses.”
“Culinary arts something you can continue here?” Andy asked.
“I was surprised, but I can. Seems the community college in Audubon has a program. I’m looking into it as soon as the office reopens.”
“Be sure to check with us,” Andy said. “We do a couple of days on the ASU campus. Maybe we can work out rides.”
“That would be good. Change of subject, but I hear people talking about Arkadelphia, Pleasant Grove and Philos. Some—most—of it doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Rich says your family owns a ranch, right?” Ethan asked.
“Yeah, we—they—do, the Bar L.”
“Well, here plantations are named. The Edwards family has owned Arkadelphia since the Creeks ceded the land. Davis bought Pleasant Grove nearly two years ago. It adjoins Arkadelphia,” Ethan said.
Andy said, “Jamie and I bought a plantation April first—good story behind that. So far as anyone knows, it was never named and we named it Philos—a Greek word for the love between friends. Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove have cattle and pecan groves. Philos is covered with pines, some planted and some wild. Eventually Jamie and I will be running cattle as we are both cattlemen. We’re are studying with the county agent and both just finished high school midterm. We did joint enrollment last semester and will be second semester freshmen next semester at ASU. Ethan is manager of the pecan operation on Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove and is studying with the county agent as well.”
“Merry Christmas,” Jeff shouted as he and Art came through the door. “Damn, Jamie, I hear you started a family with a bang.”
“Jeff, I can’t believe you said that,” Art said and bopped Jeff up the side of the head as the assembled folks roared with laughter. Jeff realized what he had said and turned bright red.
“You’re late,” Molly said as the two men hugged her.
“I-75 was a parking lot outside Macon, but we’re here and hungry.”
“We’re ready to eat as soon as you meet Christopher,” Molly said. “Christopher, this is Jeff, my son and his husband Art. Boys, Christopher Long, Rich’s nephew.
The babies had gone to sleep and since they could be heard in the dining room, no-one disturbed them.
When they all reached the table, Davis said, “Christopher, welcome to Arkadelphia and our home. We are very glad our family is together this holiday.” Davis said a very short table blessing and added, “Let us feast!” For the next hour and a half, the Arkadelphia family enjoyed good food, good wine and good conversation.
A couple days after Christmas, Sally Ann had gone to Audubon to the movies with Keith and Andy. Keith was kinda back in her good graces, but she asked Andy to go along ‘just in case’. Ethan was finishing up an online course in which he had an incomplete. He had a number of courses to finish as he had to take incompletes for most of his classes since he got behind while he was hospitalized. He would have to work hard to get everything done before starting the spring semester. He didn’t need to be trying to finish fall semester and keep up with spring semester when work at Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove picked up as spring approached.
When he finished, he took a long shower and while he was releasing his sexual tension, he thought of Scotty, briefly. He finished his shower, dressed and went downstairs. After channel surfing for several minutes, he turned off the TV and sat reflecting on his situation.
There was still pain over Scotty, but he was healing. He accepted the fact that he’d never understand how and why Scotty had gone off the rails and was determined to spend no more time trying to puzzle that out. Of course, he knew there would be times when he forgot his resolve. He accepted, intellectually, that his relationship with Scotty was over even though he knew his heart still had some healing to do. He hoped Scotty was getting back on track, but he no longer worried about it.
What he did worry about occasionally was whether he could ever find someone to share his life and, even if he did, could he ever trust again. Well, that was not an immediate problem. Where was he going to meet anyone anyway? Audubon State had a nondiscriminatory policy, but it was just that, a policy. The number of fundamentalists in the student body made sure of that. No way was he going to announce the fact that he was gay.
He remembered his last conversation with Scotty. He agreed with Scotty’s statement that he was old-fashioned and most of why he said that was true and would remain so. He had no desire to get high and no intention of fucking or being fucked by first one then another. Yeah, he was ‘uncool.’ He realized he liked being a squeaky clean guy. He didn’t judge others—well, not too much—who fucked around, but that was not him,
After his shower, he had looked at himself in the full length mirror and, frankly, liked what he saw. As he was recovering from his breakdown in the hospital, he found exercise made him sleep and feel better so, in spite of being in the hospital for what seemed like months, he came out in good shape. He continued working out, taking advantage of the equipment available to students at ASU. When Jamie and Andy discovered he worked out, they joined him which added to his enjoyment. His body was firm and defined, but didn’t have the gym rat look. Of course, work on the plantation had a lot to do with that, working muscles that machines generally neglected. He was still wearing his hair longer than the current style—at ASU, shaved heads. His was down to his shoulders. Wavy, his black hair framed his face with its dark complexion, large black eyes with long lashes and chiseled features. He realized that he was very happy with Ethan as he was. Looking at his image in the mirror again, Ethan laughed and said to himself, “You, Mr. Taylor, are a damn good-looking stud.” Few would disagree with his evaluation of his appearance. Sally Ann told him recently he rated a ten on the hotness scale and Kathryn had agreed.
Still in a reflective mood, Ethan thought about how lucky he was. He had two sons he loved very much, he had a brother and sister who made him very proud and who loved him and whom he loved in return. He had a dream for his future and the future of Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove and the opportunity to make that future a reality. For the first time since Scotty had left, Ethan realized he was a fortunate guy who had a good life. He was even more surprised to learn that he was happy. Sure, he hoped someday he’d have someone to share his life with, to love and be loved by, but that would either happen or it would not. He did know it would be hard for him to trust again and that he would not be leaping blindly into a relationship.
When she came home, Sally Ann found Ethan asleep on the couch, a smile on his face.
End of Book One
This chapter concludes the first book of Arkadelphia Plantation. A second book is in progress and I hope it will begin being posted by Thanksgiving.
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